US$620,000 seed funding from 500 Durians, Ookbee & Red Dot Ventures, etc
Follows win at Echelon 2014, team and market expansion in the pipeline
THAILAND-based startup Taamkru has received a seed investment of US$620,000 from 500 Durians, M&S Partners, IMJ Investment Partners, Ookbee and Red Dot Ventures.
The investment marks the first time that 500 Durians, the South-East Asia micro fund established by Silicon Valley-based 500 Startups, has led an investment round in the region.
Targeted specifically at digital startups in the region, 500 Durians was first announced in early 2013 and recently signed a Limited Partnership Agreement with Malaysia Venture Capital Management Berhad (Mavcap).
The partnership will see Mavcap committing US$5 million into the reported US$10 million fund, which is managed by 500 Startups venture partner Khailee Ng.
In an email interview with Digital News Asia (DNA), Taamkru chief executive officer and cofounder Wicharn Manawanitjarern said that to date, the startup has been bootstrapping via banner advertising and in-app product placement advertising.
“Now that we have successfully raised funding, in-app purchases of supplemental learning materials that are recommended based on the performance of the child will become our main revenue stream; with the opportunity to repackage the content into a business-to-business offering to schools and to open up a store platform for traditional publishers to earn revenue on their content.
“[This is] much like an Ookbee for children’s workbooks that doesn’t require technical expertise for building an app,” he added, referring to a Thailand-based startup that offers a digital publication platform for mobile devices. Ookbee was also involved in this investment round into Taamkru.
Manawanitjarern also shared that one of the priorities with the runway afforded by this round of funding would be to beef up the Taamkru team.
“We have been extensively seeking new recruits and have identified many strong candidates who are ready to join the Taamkru team as soon as next month. Our goal is to cover the South-East Asia market through our investors’ connections – especially Ookbee, which is already operating in several key markets suitable for our product,” he said.
This successful seed round follows the e-learning content provider’s recent 'Most Promising Startup Award' at regional startup conference Echelon 2014 in Singapore earlier this year, which boosted Taamkru's regional profile significantly. (Read about the team’s experience here).
The Taamkru team had beaten out nine other startups from the region, pitching its solution to a juding panel which included Dave McClure, founding partner 500 Startups; Stefan Jung, partner, Monk’s Hill Ventures; Yusuhiko Yurimoto, president and chief executive officer (CEO), Global Brain; Edgar Hardless, CEO, SingTel Innov8; Kuan Hsu, principal, GREE Ventures; Min-Kin Mak, head, hub:raum; and Vispi Daver, partner and cofounder, Unicorn Venture Capital.
A chance meeting between Manawanitjarern and fellow cofounders Norasedth ‘Premy’ Thienprasiddhi, Keerati ‘Oil’ Inochanon and Tuta Shompoo Kaotoo Mootae in late 2012 resulted in the formation of Taamkru.
It was their collective answer to “the mutual shame that Thailand ranked eighth out of the 10 countries in the Asean region in education,” said Manawanitjarern, apparently referring to the Global Competitiveness Report 2012-2013 by the World Economic Forum.
He said that Asian parents will go the extra mile to give their children a better future than themselves.
“With the majority of us still living in developing countries, our wish is to prepare our children to be able to compete in the future," he added.
Taamkru education director Thienprasiddhi, who owns four kindergartens in Thailand and an English tutoring centre business in Beijing in China, had argued that regardless of income level, parents will pay if they feel that the product or service can help give their children an edge over their peers.
“It sounds very harsh but it is a fact. However, what we tried to do is to, at the very least, make the learning enjoyable for the kids. Their parents will pressure them no matter what, so we make our app fun for children while making their aptitude measurable for parents,” Manawanitjarern said.
The team’s ultimate vision is to play a part in providing new standards of learning where children can have fun while parents can understand easily which areas their children need improvement in. (Read more about Taamkru’s origins here.)
With their specially developed syllabus for kindergarten children delivered via the startup’s mobile app, which is now available on the Andriod and iOS platforms, there are essentially two categories of competitors, according to Manawanitjarern.
The first is the traditional paper-based children’s workbook, which has disadvantages such as non-repeatable exercises, lack of easy comparison with other children’s progress or performance tracking, and parents forgetting to score an exercise after completion, he argued.
Another factor, as Manawanitjarern quipped, is the observation that “no child has ever smiled while completing a workbook!”
The second category of competitors are other education apps already available in the market, which he claimed are fun for the children, but added that parents are unable to relate them back to school work. In addition, these apps do not offer any meaningful measurement of progress.
“Taamkru addresses both these gaps. Our test layout makes it easy for parents to see the relevance between our exercises and content children will learn in school. And our comparison feature allows parents to compare children scores with other children by class level, age, or location,” he said.
The team is now hard at work to swiftly expand Taamkru's inventory of learning exercises by releasing one new exercise per day, and by introducing new iOS and Android versions of the mobile app, which will include enhanced interaction and gamification integration.
As part of its efforts to boost product awareness and its user base, Taamkru has opened up registration for the upcoming Taamkru Kindergarten Application Test (TKAT) season-three contest.
In less than one year this tri-annual competition has received 20,000 applicants, consisting of pre-school aged participants and their accompanying parents from Thailand and China.
Based on a scoring algorithm similar to world-class adaptive tests for adults like the SAT, GMAT and GRE, TKAT is intended to provide parents with an accurate measure of the true analytical and reasoning ability of their child, benchmarked against indicator data.
Winners of this off-line competition will receive trophies awarded by His Royal Highness Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti of Thailand, while the school of the winning child will receive an honor plaque from the Thai Ministry of Education.
Children with the highest scores as indicated on the mobile app will also be invited to join the final competition on-site in Bangkok to compete against other children as the TKAT contest determines the most gifted pre-schooler of 2014.
Educating about education
Since its launch in January of this year, Taamkru is experiencing “spectacular growth," with more than 100,000 app downloads to date, claimed Manawanitjarern.
Within Thailand and Singapore, the app has also simultaneously held the No 1 position in the iOS store in both the Kids and Education categories.
Manawanitjarern said that recent success in Singapore, a market characterised by elevated digital content per capita spend and a strong emphasis on education, has provided an ideal testbed as the company seeks to rapidly expand to other countries in the region.
Taamkru company also recently appointed Founder Institute Thailand co-director Krating Poonpol to its board of advisors.
Poonpol previously led product development and launch initiatives as a former executive at the Google headquarters in California and at Thai telecommunications giant DTAC.
Manawanitjarern said that Poonpol’s experience will be an asset as Taamkru moves toward its goal of attracting parents globally to download the educational app, and become the largest source of mobile online pre-school learning exercises in the world.
Asked about the most challenging moment in its journey to date, Manawanitjarern shared that it was trying to get on the radar of the 500 Startups team.
“I was actually pitching to Khailee [Ng] for a different startup when I first met him last year during Geeks On A Plane Bangkok.
“Being a hot venture capitalist, it is already difficult to get some face time with him, let alone trying to 'elevator pitch' to him. I started to go to many events in which he was a speaker, locally and regionally, tried to go to after-parties that I heard he would attend.
“More than half the time, I would fail because either he was swarmed by other people or he left before I got a chance to talk to him,” he said.
Manawanitjarern didn’t get his chance to talk to Ng until the end of 2013, when Ng began to recognise him after seeing him at a few events.
After a 15-minute conversation-cum-pitch, Ng was interested enough to give out his number and Manawanitjarern dutifully informed him of business updates every few months, until Ng finally got serious about Taamkru.
“I guess I overcame that challenge by being persistent and sharing with him data revelant to his interest, which is business traction,” he added.
Fifth Echelon off to a great start
Japan’s Transcosmos acquires 10% stake in Thailand’s Ookbee
Thailand’s Eko raises US$1mil from 500 Startups, others
Echelon Thailand on in September
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